It's September, and time for rose hips

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By Sylvia Brockner

Once more it is time for the September Song. Where has the summer gone? For me, it has flown, wasted by being sick, doctoring, etc. My favorite time of the year and, now that I seem to be somewhat better, where have all the flowers gone?

With any kind of luck, we may still have a month or two of lovely fall weather. September brings the turning of the aspen leaves from green to gold. By the end of the month Golden, Colo., is at its best.

Five bluebirds are flitting about my neighbor’s yard gathering insects on the wing. They are a family of this year’s young, which will be joining other families to make up the huge flocks that will soon be migrating south for the winter.

Pine siskins, with their incredibly tame young, two young chipping sparrows and two immature gray-headed juncos still come to our feeders, but they too will soon leave. Straggling migrant rufous hummingbirds have been feeding, but they too are just about gone.

A few immature broad-tailed hummers are still fighting about sharing the feeders, but it is only a half-hearted fight. Since they are siblings, they are soon sitting side by side, sipping nectar through a straw. Between the 15th and 20th of the month, most of the hummers will be gone, with only the occasional late migrant showing up.

Already there are hints of fall as fields and meadows are tawny with ripening seed heads. Today, I noticed the first rose hips are about half red. Our wild rose bushes are looking a little bit bedraggled due to the dry summer, but they have survived. The seed container of the rose is called hypanthium and is a structure that forms a cup around the ovary, which usually looks like a green calyx cup, with the petals and stamens mounted on the rim.

They will be bright shiny red before long and are commonly called rose hips. Rose hips are known around the world if for no other reason than they contain large amounts of vitamin C and have been used by native peoples almost everywhere to help prevent scurvy.

During World War II, when oranges were not available in England, rose hips were collected all over Great Britain as part of the war effort. It is estimated that in 1943 about 500 tons of rose hips were collected in Great Britain and made into syrup. Known as National Rose Hip Syrup, it was doled out to British children a teaspoon per day as an antiscorbutic. The Swedish are also noted for using rose hips for jelly and flavoring.

There are hundreds of varieties of roses around the world, and they seem to vary from place to place, because some people claim they are tasteless and others rave about their flavor.

From the recipes I have seen, it seems the biggest problem is that the seeds in the hips are covered with hairs, so the seeds should be removed. This can be done by cutting the hips lengthwise and scraping out the seeds. However, Ann Zwinger, in “Beyond the Aspen Grove,” said it was a very time-consuming task and she had sore fingers from the hairs on the seeds.

Rose hips vary in size and may range from a quarter of an inch in diameter to a full inch or more. If the seeds are to be removed, it stands to reason that the larger hips would be the easiest to work with. The jelly is sometimes for sale in specialty stores and import shops. Considering the work involved, it is no wonder it is so expensive.

However, rose hips are almost unmistakable, and the raw hip flesh, with seeds removed, could be used as survival food, according to H.D. Harrington in his “Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains.”

The hips dry and freeze on the plant and are often held well above the snow. This makes them available even in winter, and they are eaten by many birds. Due to their toughness, they seem to be eaten mostly by the larger birds such as bobwhite, ruffed grouse, dusky grouse, ring-necked pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens. However, the thrushes also relish the fruit, for it is eaten by the wood thrush, olive-backed thrush, solitaire, hermit thrush, robin and bluebird. In the Eastern states, the fruit is also eaten by the northern cardinal.

Because of this, wild roses are listed on many state lists of species to plant to attract birds and other wildlife. However, the foreign multi-flora rose that was planted all over the Eastern states has become an invasive pest that is all but impossible to eradicate. As usual, importing non-native plants or animals has proven to be a costly mistake.